Head Twisting - lengthy

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Head Twisting - lengthy

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  • What does it mean when a horse who is trotting tilts his head to the side
  • Head twisting

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    01-03-2012, 03:11 PM
Question Head Twisting - lengthy

Hi All!

I’m not quite sure where to post this as I am not sure if we are dealing with a training, behavioral, or physical issue. Also, apologies for the lengthiness of this post (kudos to those that read on).

My mother’s horse has had a very peculiar issue with ‘head-caulking’ or ‘twisting’ his head to the right while undersaddle at the trot or canter. I don’t have many other words to describe it - he literally, twists his head sideways (always to the right) on either lead/diagonal and even on the way to a jump which, as you can assume, makes finding a distance very difficult!

She purchased him back in September and he has been doing this on and off since, as of late however, it seems to have gotten worse and more persistent. The head twisting will occur outside, inside, during the day, in the evening, and does it with different riders on his back. It does get worse (persists at it longer and more often) when he’s ‘fresh’. Last week, she saw him do it in his stall for the first time. Odd. We will be free lunging him tomorrow to see if he does it then.

I do not have video of him at the moment, but I found a YouTube video of someone else’s horse doing something similar, you only need to watch the first 40 seconds to see it.

**again, not my video – purely used as an example**
Traveller jan 2010 - YouTube!

Since this has started, my mother has done the following;
- Teeth checked
- New saddle (he had back adhesions from a previously ill fitted saddle when she purchased him so she is very careful to use a properly fitted saddle and saddle pads)
- Chiropractor (has been seeing an improvement with the adhesions and has not found anything else significantly related to this issue)
- Numerous bits at no avail.
- Farrier has checked feet
- Treated him for ulcers
- All other tack fits well (martingale, bridle, girth, boots etc.)
- Not to mention, we have tried all the gimmicks we can think of; full body massages prior and after working, Back-On-Track products, liniments, and so on.
- If it is a behavioral issue, she has not gone very far with ‘training’ this out of him as we would like to rule out anything physically wrong first.

Physical history:
- He is a happy, healthy, 7 year old Hannovarian gelding with a very sweet disposition, gets daily turnout and has never been lame since she’s owned him. He does get grumpy while currying/brushing and can also be a bit girthy. His job now is a Hunter, but was Evented prior to mom’s ownership. Undersaddle, he is usually light and supple and likes a bit of support. He can bend and flex well, and moves well in general. He’s still a bit green, but overall he’s a well rounded, good boy.
- With exception to the back adhesion the only other physical problem he has had, are some hives. Our vet did a scraping but found nothing significant so treated him for a week to see if they would improve or not. The hives disappeared with treatment, but the head-twisting didn’t change.

I don’t believe its allergy related head shaking, as he hasn’t been itching his nose or sneezing any more than the average horse. He has also been checked for TMJ. At this point my mother is really starting to feel frustrated; understandably. So where do we go from here? X-rays, nerve blocking...??? If you suspect it’s behavioral or a learned habit, what are your suggestions for training? Advise please and thanks!!!
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    01-03-2012, 03:18 PM
IF it was only occurring under saddle I would think it was a learned behavior, perhaps to avoid the bit. Since you've noticed it when he's in his stall, I would be concerned that it is a nerve-based condition. What does your Vet think?
    01-03-2012, 03:22 PM
Have you had someone look at his muscles or for pinched nerves?
    01-03-2012, 03:51 PM
Hmmm. Pinched nerve. That's a thought! I assumed our Chiro would have picked up on anything of that nature, but perhaps that more for the vet to examine?

We haven't fully discussed it with the vet as of yet. It first appeared as an occasional naughty behavior, then we wondered if something else was up. As it became more and more prevalent, we have exhausted all our efforts and ideas experiment with bits, resolving the hives, getting the back adhesion fixed up etc. It's gotten worse in the last few weeks (perhaps with the cold making him a bit more fresh?), but a vet call is most definitely in order at this point.
    01-03-2012, 04:15 PM
Super Moderator
This is really interesting. I have a mare that does exactly the same thing. She started doing it a few years back now. I have no idea what it means. When it first started I had her checked for ear mites/ear infection and had her neurologically checked. I didn't put a ton of effort into it because she only does it under saddle and because she has a previous tendon injury we don't use her but a few times a year for pony rides. I wrote it off as her being a witch and evading the bit. (She is western pleasure trained and has a sneaky sneaky side to her). She's also cold backed. Is your horse cold backed?
    01-03-2012, 04:29 PM
I'll be interested to hear tomorrow if he does do it whilst being free lunged. Have you ever seen him do it whilst turned out with others?
    01-03-2012, 08:08 PM
I just posted a thread "help ... my horse has been lame for 4 months" this is what my horse started doing after his injury.
He has had a shoulder injury after pulling back. He only exhibits lameness at a trot going in a counter clockwise direction (but jets his chin out to the right)
While I'm riding him, he starts out okay, then after a short time he will "jet his chin out" . He does it instantly on the lunge line as it is hard for him to turn with the injured shoulder on the inside of the circle. Sometimes he would even refuse to go that direction ( I stopped lunging him so as not to stress his shoulder) I haven't noticed him doing it in a non work related situation.

It is always my indication that he has had enough. I always push him just a little further just because he is sooooo smart that it wouldn't take much for him to figure out that he could stop after... I call it "jetting his chin out".
With my guy this behavior started after his injury so I knew it was a pain issue...this guy doesn't look like he's too sore at the beginning of your session...LOL!
Do you know if he's had any lameness issues in the past...maybe its a learned behavior from a previous injury.
    01-03-2012, 08:11 PM
Super Moderator
Sisbarbo that's very interesting. Mine started her issue AFTER her injury as well. She severed the tendons in her back leg. So is it balance related or pain related?
    01-03-2012, 08:43 PM
That's a great question farm pony!

My vet/ chiropractor didn't say anything about it one way or the other, but she did encourage me to ride him (Clark) and strengthen him. I did that for the past 3 months. I didn't see much improvement so I've been resting him until the weather improves.

Clark is extremely good at communicating himself (good, bad or indifferent...it's pretty comical actually)

After what I've experienced I would tend to believe it is more pain related, because.... for example.... we had a beautiful day last week so I took him out for a short trail ride to see if there was any improvement after 2 weeks of resting him. He started out feeling pretty good...no chin jetting... but on the way back....he started to "jet out" even at a walk...not constant, but I could tell that he was getting sore and had enough, and was glad that I hadn't gone any further.
    01-03-2012, 09:48 PM
Head tilting/twisting is also frequently caused by rider crookedness. If your mum is riding with one hand slightly higher or differently rotated than the other, maybe she has more weight on one side of the saddle, maybe she is gripping a little more with one knee.... many many MANY rider issues can cause head tilt.

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